The discovery by a research team at the University of California, Santa Barbara provides scientists with a new means for identifying novel anti-cancer drugs and may lead to a better understanding of the effects of stress on longevity. It will make it possible to search for more potent and less harmful drugs that prevent or eliminate cancer using simple, easily cultured worms.
The human "p53" gene, the only gene to be featured on the cover of Newsweek, has been renowned for years as one of the most important genes in preventing cancer. In fact, most human tumors carry a defective p53 gene. However, Joel Rothman, professor of molecular biology and leader of the research team, notes, "We found that p53 plays a more fundamental role in worms. It protects against the deleterious effects of cancer-causing agents and is apparently a kingpin for supporting life under a variety of stress conditions."
Though the studies on worms led the researchers to learn about p53 function in a whole animal, scientists initially did not believe that such a simple creature contained this gene, which is so important in human medicine. That changed when lead author William B. Derry, a post-doctoral fellow on Rothman's research team, discovered that worms carry the gene. "Although it was initially hard to recognize, we found that the worm gene has all the essential parts of the human cancer-blocking gene," said Derry.
Mammals, including humans, contain three forms of the p53 gene, which have some overlapping functions. "Since the worm has only one, it is much easier to study its function in the context of a whole animal," said Derry. This feature made it possible for the researchers to reveal wha
Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara